Government’s latest decision to retrench 1,500 public servant workers as part of its Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) plan has put an extra strain on our social security systems.
Indeed, some NIS employees are among those sent home in the past weeks.
But this latest series of layoffs, while unfortunate, has provided the perfect opportunity for the NIS to improve its operations, effectiveness and customer service.
These changes need to occur.
In this particular situation, the NIS cannot rely on the usual way of doing business at a time when a large number of working-class Barbadians will be depending on it.
The NIS has for too long been tardy with payments, whether it be unemployment, maternity and sickness benefits, or pensions.
In many cases, beneficiaries have been forced to wait months and sometimes over a year to receive that which is their due.
But the 1,500 people who have been sent home cannot wait that long.
The majority of these workers are at the lower end of the pay scale – a monthly salary of $2,500 or less.
In breaking the news that layoffs were imminent, Government had promised that no person would be sent home empty-handed; they would instead have received the monies owed to them on termination.
From all accounts, that is not the case.
In some instances, workers received only a month’s pay with their dismissal letter. This means that those breadwinners have been sent home with very little money after providing years of service.
With that being said, the NIS finds itself in a situation where many people will be eagerly, if not desperately, looking forward to getting their unemployment benefits.
It is not good enough for them to spend bus fare, or gas money, and time on trips to the NIS’s Culloden Farm headquarters and then to the Barbados Employment and Career Counselling Services in Warrens for three months before they can get their first cheque. Because even though that cheque is to be a lump sum it is no relief to the low-grade worker who had already been struggling for the taxing months leading up to it.
Having presented the necessary documents in registering for unemployment benefits, there is no reason why they should not begin receiving their money within a week, two weeks the latest – or as was promised to them by their former employer, the State.
Being unemployed does not stop bills dead in their tracks; loan payments are not suddenly suspended and one’s children no longer have to eat and be supported.
It cannot be fair that a worker is forced to pay his or her taxes on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis for years, but when it is time to receive what is owed to them, they are forced to wait by the window in anticipation of the postman.
Although owed millions of dollars by Government, the NIS is not by any means cash-strapped, so therefore the issue of paying those benefits is not actually a financial one. This suggests the NIS’ tardiness in paying out benefits is a systemic problem.
There needs to be an overhaul of the NIS system and a more functional and effective one devised and rolled out.
In the countries we seek to emulate, social security is paid in full and on time, because Governments realize the importance of doing so, especially in cases where it is often that person’s only means of income.
We call on the Government to expedite paying all severed staff the monies which are rightfully theirs. But until that is done, the NIS needs to support those unemployed people with the timely payment of those benefits to which they are entitled.